The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

For a Green Apartment in NYC – Check out Green Depot August 4, 2010

After my lovely farmers market cooking class on Sunday, I had the afternoon to waste and it occurred to me it was a perfect opportunity to check out the Green Depot.

And…. there goes my budget for the month. How could I get so excited about a place that sells paint, cleaning supplies, building supplies, and baby stuff? I don’t know, but I did.

I needed to figure out why I keep killing my herbs, so I bought a guide called Organic Crops in Pots. I wanted to learn more about running our itty-bitty household in a green way, so I bought make your place, an adorable, bite-size, hand-written treasure trove of recipes for face-wash, cleaners, salves, and even natural pain relief. I wanted to find a better way to mark my herbs (once I succeed in raising them) than plastic spoons, so I bought adorable up-cycled markers made from vintage silverware. I wanted to be able to keep the outlet in my room off as much as possible, save energy, and get off the coal-powered grid just a little bit, so I bought a solar-powered battery pack that will charge up during the day, and charge up my phone at night as I sleep. I wanted to figure out what to do about my brand new organic white sheets, which are rapidly becoming a casualty of hot NYC nights. (Read: I sweat a lot. TMI? Whatever.) so I bought Oxy-boost for my laundry, in lieu of bleach. I wanted to tackle our pre-war bathroom without using that caustic stuff, Comet, so I had a long discussion with Patricia and she recommended Green Depot’s own bathroom cleaner, whose bottle I can refill over and over because they have it “on tap.” Finally, I wanted to figure out what to do about all the food scraps we toss in the garbage every week. So I picked up a guide to composting in NYC, and will be carefully considering my options in the next month. (Compost in the apartment? Drop it off at a garden? Give up?) In case I decide to go forward with it, they have the most classic and un-hippie-like compost pales in silver and white.

I walked away with a $147 bill, I’m not kidding. The most expensive item by far was the solar-powered charger, at $55. Was it worth it? Ehhhh, maybe. If I turn off my electricity except when I’m running the air conditioning or my hair dryer, I could probably make up the difference within a few months. Also, it’s just cool.

When I left, I walked west from Green Depot’s spot on Bowery, and found myself smack dab in the middle of the Soho shopping district, where every store front is filled with dresses, purses, and shoes. “Don’t look don’t look don’t look don’t look,” I told myself. “Just make it through without stepping in a store.”

I made it through ok. But what does it say about my priorities that I will pay $150 for herb-growing supplies, solar powered chargers, and green cleaning supplies, but not a cute dress? (Which, by the way, I have far too many of.) I think it says my priorities are firmly in the right place.

 

Looking for Some Yum Organic Food in NYC? July 31, 2010

I’m an avid user and reviewer of Yelp, so I decided to highlight some of my reviews of organic, local, and sustainable eats in NYC and Brooklyn. This is by no means comprehensive though! On my to-do list:  The Good Fork, ABC Restaurant, Xoom, and so. many. others. Good sustainable food is everywhere, you just need to know where to look!

Bobo

West Village

7/31/10

As a huge local food fan, I’m always excited to hear about a restaurant with a relationship with the farmers. You won’t see a Cisco food truck outside of this place. Every dish is lovingly crafted from artisinal cheeses, locally-grown produce, and delicious humanly raised meats. It makes it all the better than the owner, Carlos Suarez, quit finance (“a lack of values” he said) to open this restaurant.

We arrived just a few minutes later for our 7:45 reservation, and an older gentleman led us up the painted wood stairs lined with flickering candles to a romantic dining room. The handcrafted quality of the restaurant shines through even in the decor. Fashioned from what was obviously a townhouse at some point, the dining room is romantically lit, with bookshelves stocked with old tomes, heavy draperies, and candles everywhere.

We hit a hiccup when our waiter forgot to provide us with a wine list, but he apologized when he realized 10 minutes later and was quickly back to take our order of an artisinal and biodynamic malbec. There was also a short list of cocktails, bottled and draft beers, and aperitifs. I hardly noticed the less than stellar service because he was so friendly, and even made me laugh a few times.

We provided the waiter with a coupon from Blackboard eats, and received in return a plate of fig leaf wraps with brown rice and a sweet sauce, and three “shooters” of pepper and zucchini infused non-alcoholic drink. They have a long list of canapes that comes in singles for about $3 a piece, so you can mix and match.

The star of the night was the duck breast with chorizo that my boyfriend ordered – it was an eyes-rolling-back-my-head moment. My brook trout wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, unfortunately. And at one point I had to pull a small bone out of my mouth. Yuck.

However, you must order something from the dessert menu. We had a trio of ice cream sandwich sliders: gingerbread-oatmeal-raisin cookies with a mildly fruity ice cream, chocolate with what I think was a cookies and cream ice cream, and and a classic chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. We made a huge mess, but since they put down paper on the tables instead of white cloth, I didn’t feel so bad.

As we left we noticed that the downstairs bar was booming. And it looks like you can order some food at the stand up tables by the window as well.

A word on the prices – they are very reasonable. I was suprised that the bill wasn’t more, given that we ordered so much, and the quality of the restaurant. Add in the fact that all ingredients are local and organic, well it’s practically a steal. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but the value is definitely there.

All in all I would definitely come back here, but it hasn’t quite made my list of favorites.

The Farm on Adderley

Neighborhood: Flatbush

7/28/2010

Oh man does my boyfriend know me well. I’m a huge local/organic/sustainable food buff, and at his suggestion we came to The Farm on Adderly for a casual after work dinner.

We ate inside, since there was a short wait for the garden out back. The tables are well spaced so you aren’t elbowing your neighbor, and the whole space has a cozy feel.

When the waiter (friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt) described their steak special of the night, I wondered to myself if the meat was grass-fed or local. Imagine my delight when I spied the footnote on the menu: “All the meat on the menu has been sourced locally, is pasture-raised and humanely cared for.” Score!

The menu itself is short and sweet, with an assortment of cheeses, not more than five salads, and some entrees. But the beer and wine menu looked extensive. We ordered cocktails – he got the cucumber lemonade and I ordered the grapefruit Blue Ridge Parkway (a reference to a scenic drive through the Appalachians.)

For non-alcoholic beverages, they had some interesting choices, including Fentiman’s Brewed Cola, Zico Coconut Water, Fever Tree Tonic, and even homemade kombucha.  This place is a hippie paradise. At the bottom, as if they are ashamed to admit it, there is diet coke too.

I ordered the special, which was… hmmm… what did they call it… a crepette I think? It was a meat dish with tripe. The waiter was nice enough to warn me about the tripe, but really, you can’t even tell it’s there. It wasn’t the best meat dish I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t bad either, and was very filling.

My bf ordered the butcher’s meatballs, which he reported being quite satisfied with. We took a glance at the dessert menu, just to see what was on there. Mistake. I had to shove it away so I wouldn’t be tempted by all the delicious confections on there, including banana chocolate upside down cake. Another time, for sure.

Bonus, go a few doors down to Sycamore for a follow-up drink in their garden. It’s equally enjoyable.

Community Food & Juice

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

7/26/2010

I had heard such wonderful things about this place, and after coming here both for dinner and brunch, I’ve gotten a 360 view.

They have a wonderful selection of organic and local beers to start off with. I didn’t try the cocktails, but they were tempting, to say the least. In fact, they have a lot of local and sustainable fair on the menu, which is always very nice.

I had a delicious salmon and fried potato salad over a bed of parsley, which just blew my mind. I’m not a huge salad person, but I left feeling very full.

I came here a few days later for brunch. We managed to snag a table in the shade outside (the wait for an indoor table looked long) but not all tables are shaded, so watch out on a hot summer day.

We saw several B.E.L.T.s walk by (bacon lettuce tomato and egg on sourdough, yum!)  But I opted for a more traditional house-made apple sausage and eggs with carrot hashbrowns. Filling and delicious. My friend had the blueberry pancakes, which came with a syrup that tasted like brown sugar and butter. So decadent, and so good!

The service was great both times. The waiters quickly came by, and so did our food. I will be eating here whenever I get the chance!

Tangled Vine

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

6/18/2010

My friend and I were lured here by the promise of organic and biodynamic wines. The menu was full of organic wines by the glass as promised, but I had a hard time ferreting out a biodynamic wine. Too bad. If you are looking for an extensive wine list, you’ve got it here. It goes on for pages and pages.

I know this might not matter, but I noticed the menus are cheap photo albums with printed paper slid into the plastic pockets. Small things like that really factor into my experience. That, along with the unfinished awning out front, gave me the feeling that they weren’t quite finished putting the place together.

The food (all meant to be shared) was delicious, and the service good. We ordered the organic veal meatballs and asparagus and peas risotto. I could have licked the plate!

My one big complaint was the tight space. It was a crowded Thursday night, so we sat at a high communal table with five others. In order to leave, everyone on one side of the table had to climb down from their stool to let the person pass.

It was super loud in there, but my friend and I had to strike a careful balance between speaking loud enough to here each other, and not offending our neighbors, who we knocked elbows with the whole meal.

I’ll probably go back for a casual glass of wine and some plates with a friend since it’s in my ‘hood, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a romantic date, and I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

The Castello Plan

Neighborhood: Flatbush

6/14/2010

I am so happy this is right around the corner from my boyfriend’s place, because we both agree we’ll be going back soon!When the sommelier came over, he inquired after my preferences, and then went to get three bottles and three glasses. “I think I’ll taste some with you,” he told us.

Each glass he would give an abbreviated, broad description, (“full, fruity, bold) which was nice because it’s a proven scientific fact that you cannot detect five different notes in every wine, no matter how romantic it sounds. Then while my boyfriend and I followed protocol (swirl, smell, taste) he would knock it back like a frat boy taking a shot. We suspected he might be drunk, or maybe he didn’t even work there and was just hanging out. Doesn’t matter because we were super happy with the wine he helped us choose. He also pointed at the Brooklyn borough president who was schmoozing at a nearby table.

When our friends joined us, we ordered two appetizer plates, and an assortment of cheeses and prosciutto. The wooden platter of prosciutto and cheeses was amazing, but the duck really took the award for the night. I’ve never had such a sumptuous mouth-feel before. We tasted our friends’ sweet potato dish, it was hard to refrain from stealing their plate and eating the rest! Dessert was amazing too: bite-sized chocolate tulips. I would give you a fuller description, but by this point my faculties were severely impaired.

I also liked their presentation: vintage-looking silver and raw cut wood platters. We all had such a great time, I couldn’t imagine a nicer night.

Juice Generation

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

5/28/2010

As far as smoothie places go, this is the best.My reasons? Voila:

1. They use fresh, local-when-possible, organic ingredients.

2. They have delicious smoothies with ingredients like acai, goji berry, ginger, or just your regular strawberries and banana, plus boosters.

3. They use recycled plastic cups that – unlike Jamba Juice’s – don’t leach chemicals into your yummy smoothie.

4. Their sandwiches are fresh-made, and delicious, especially when grilled and cheesy-melty.

5. If you need a snack, they have crazy healthy raw food bars, trail mix, and protein muffins.

6. The people who work there are always friendly and helpful. They deserve all the tips they get and more!

7. In the winter, you can get a hot drink like their cold-busting ginger and orange juice drink. Peps you right up.

8. Everything always looks hyper-sterilized and organized.

This place costs me seven extra blocks of walking before work, but it’s totally worth it. I love starting my day with a smoothie or (if I’m hungover) a muffin.

 

Put it on the To Do List: The Hester Street Fair July 27, 2010

Sunday, after having a delicious brunch at the sustainable and organic Community Food and Juice in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side, Vicki (the roomie) and I set out on an adventure all the way down to the Lower East Side. I was actually just there Saturday night with Agatha, my friend from work. But I wasn’t going down there on Sunday for Ommegang beer and gin and tonics. Nope, I was headed down to sample hand crafted macarons, spicy popsicles, and peruse some vintage wares and locally-made crafts.

Allow me this rant first: Sometimes I really hate the MTA. New York’s transportation system is like a five year old’s birthday party run by a drunk grown up: nobody knows what is going on, it’s always a mess, and there ends up being a lot of pissed off people.

I had gone jogging earlier in the morning at 9, and reported back to Vicki that it wasn’t “that bad. It’s doable.” But as we came closer to noon, the heat became close to unbearable. Vicki and I found that the subway 1 line was not stopping at 125th, 116th, 110th, or 103 going downtown. Since we live at 110th, this put us in a predicament. We waited at the bus stop, panting like poodles in the heat. One bus rumbled by, too full to stop. Another pulled over to let over a little old Asian couple, but didn’t allow anyone on. Our trip to the fair seemed like it might be a huge mistake. Vicki suggested we walk east to the AC line, four long blocks West. Peering out from our shady spot under the bus shelter was like gazing from an oasis across a parched desert. But I finally agreed. We passed through a pedestrian fairway with shady trees, and finally managed to get a train going in the right direction, cooling off in the wonderfully icy interior of the subway car. From the Grand St subway stop, the fair was only a few blocks away.

The Hester Street fair is deceptively small. With only a hundred yards of grounds, you would think you would get bored quickly. And yeah, you might if you like to speed shop and you aren’t hungry. But Vicki and I spent nearly an hour as we hopped from booth to booth, gossiping with the vendors, asking them about their foods and crafts, and nibbling on the tasties.

After passing by some cute stationary (which is getting old, I feel like a see at least one – if not three – hand printed stationary table at every fair in New York) we stopped at DBA. I thought DBA only produces beautifully simple biodegradable pens, but upon visiting their site right now, I’ve found all sorts of nice little sustainable things that are “forthcoming,” like a dishrack, an extension cord, and a heater. Ok, sounds boring, but it would be the most stylish extension cord you ever owned, trust me. But right now, besides the matte black pen that uses non-toxic ink and is 98% biodegradable, they also have an “endless notebook” that can

be combined and rearranged to create your perfect little notebook. It’s 100% post-consumer waste and chlorine free. If you don’t have a compost bin, you can just send the pen back, and they’ll take care of it for you!

I scribbled a bit using the pen and chatted with Niamh (pronounced Neev – she’s one of those Irish beauties whose name is crazily spelled) Hughes, the Business Development Manager. She tried on my Kayu glasses, saying she had  been salivating over them for some time. I think they actually looked cuter on her than on I…Obviously, I bought a pack of the pens, happy to support the venture.

Next door: the Macaron Parlour with Simon Tung manning the table. We’re lucky we didn’t come Friday, because the shop had sold out, riding on a wave of customers after a mention in the Daily Candy. But today he had lots of flavors. I tried the lemon macaron, which seems silly in hindsight, with flavors like candied bacon with maple cream cheese, thai chili, and earl grey available. I mean, I’m not saying was disappointed with my choice. I bit in

to the flaky crust which melted away to reveal the ganache filling – tart and tasty. “This is better than Laduree!” I declared. He practically blushed. “No way, that isn’t true. Though Christina [Christina Ha, his business partner] did study under Pierre Herme in Paris.” I nodded like I knew what he was talking about. It sounded impressive, at least.

Vicki ordered the cinnamon pistachio with morello cherries, which I nibbled on as well. Not bad!

Moving on to the next yummy thing, I had a iced lychee white tea, then a delicious waffle with sweet red bean in the center. A bean filling sounds savory, but this one was sweet, almost like a fruit filling. And they were shaped like fish! Charming. I felt bad for the pair manning the griddle, in the 90 degree heat though. Luckily nearby there was a tent whose sole purpose was to cover visitors with a cool mist.

Also, I almost got a ping pong ball the to the face, but luckily one of the players snatched it from the air by my head. Of course, I had no clue until they both started laughing. Typically me.

Vicki and I perused some vintage jewelry and dishes, marveling at an old butter churn and examining old postcards. I gave some serious thought to getting some lovely jars (something I’ve been obsessed with lately) but the swing-top lid was so rusty it was a struggle to get it open and that’s not something I wanted to deal with on a daily basis.

I passed by Laura Fisk’s table and fell in love with her printed cotton accessories. There were classy cobalt blue napkins with ruby pomegranates. “If I had a real house with more than two seats at a table, I would get those,” I told Vicki. Instead I opted for a pretty little apron with an adjustable neck, and cupcakes on the front. I was giddy when Laura yanked on the strings and the apron slid up. “We short people always have to fold it up,” she said. I totally agree. It gets annoying that normal aprons starts right under my boobs. She also had a children’s book, stationary, and some children’s-sized aprons. They’re printed with non-toxic inks as well, though I wish it was organic cotton. Can’t win ’em all!

You can see her stuff at fiskandfern.com.

Of course, it wasn’t all stuffing my face with food and shopping for myself. I shopped for other people too! I bought Mike a very manly belt from Feur Wear made from out-of-commission German fire hoses. That’s Dave, above, posing with the belt. His company, Holstee, is selling the belts for Feur Wear, because they like the German company’s stuff so much and wants to see them in the US. Holstee designs and curates beautifully designed sustainable goods, and you should really give their website a look, because there is some uber-cool stuff on there. It debunks the myth that sustainable design is all hippie skirts and fanciful stationary.

I especially love their manifesto:

“This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love…” And on. (I don’t want to brush up against copyright infringement by reprinting the whole thing here…” You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Next to Holstee was a table displaying some select stuff from Sustainable NYC: adorable fold-up reusable bags, Toms shoes, soy candles, and upcycled purses. I did not even know this place existed, but now I feel like I have to go there! It’s at Avenue A and 9th St. A bit out of the way for me, but still….

At this point another vendor piped up, saying a huge rain storm was about ten minutes away. To the West the sky was dark and ominous. Vicki wanted to leave right then, but I wanted to stay a little longer.

Finally we stopped at Xoom for some smoothie samples. I wish this smoothie and tea shop wasn’t so far away from me, because if Xoom was on the UWS, it would replace my obsession with Juice Generation, I’m sure. Not only because the smoothies are delicious, but their green creds (to the right) are top notch.

At this point we hurried away from the fair to beat the rain. As fat raindrops spattered the sidewalk, I took one last picture of the bike valet and Vicki and I promised each other we would come back to try everything else. What we didn’t get to sample: the ice cream sandwiches, sassily flavored popsicles, and barbecue. Not to mention the adorable yoga bags I forgot to go back for. Another day, another time…

Vicki set off in a dead run for the subway, with me calling after her. “Wait up!” as I struggled to run in my Jack Rogers. You would think she would melt or something. We waited on the platform for a full twenty minutes, watching train after train go by on the opposite platform. Finally a voice over the intercom. “Wah wah wah Brooklyn bound only wah wah.”

That’s when we saw a sign saying no north-bound trains at that station. Awesome. We emerged, walked ten steps and then the skies let loose. Luckily the Green Market farmers market was right next to use, so we hid under a tent and chatted with the Green Market worker about her time in India while waiting for the downpour to ease. (I love New York!)

When the rain eased up a little, we walked on, stopping at The Pickle Guys for Vicki, and then we hopped a bus and took it up to The Strand. Can you believe I’ve never been to this bookstore before? I could spend hours in there, but I stuck to my shopping list and walked away with Markets of New York City (natch), 101 Things I learned in Culinary School, and Remember Be Here Now, the classic hippie tome about the spiritual life. That and psychedelic drugs, ha.

Finally we hopped on the subway and came home. I cooked some stir fry up for Vicki and Mike, Vicki made mimosas, and it was a good day.

 

How to Grocery Shop the Green Way, and My New Fave Grocery Store July 24, 2010

Last Friday evening I had plans to go see a movie (or two) with Vicki, but she had come down with strep throat. As I rode the elevator down to the lobby at my work, I wondered what I would do with my night. I could call some friends, but instead I decided to have a low key night in, and cook for myself.

I hardly ever cook. I know that it’s a great thing to do, but when I get home at eight every night, and want to get up at 6 the next morning…well, I have my priorities. So I relished the thought of having an evening to practice my cooking skills and get a good night’s sleep. (Yes, this is old woman behavior. No, I am not ashamed.)

I had visited the Westerly Natural Market a few times before, but in a slap-dash, grab-and-go sort of way. Located at 54th and 7th Avenue, Westerly Natural Market is like a more authentic version of Whole Foods. Instead of well-dressed, gossipy girls, there was a pair of old woman trading witty banter as they perused the full four aisles of natural supplements. Instead of women dressed head to toe in Lululemon, there was a woman dressed in t-shirts and jeans, with a fair-trade looking purse slung over their shoulder. There was a guy wandering around with both a shopping bag and his bicycle helmet slung over his arm.

I enlisted my iPhone to help me with my mission to cook something easy and healthy. I’ve been saving recipes on Delicious, and now pulled them up using the Delicious App. I chose Lamp Chops with Pistachio Tapenade, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

Westerly Natural Market has a basic produce aisle, four aisle of supplements and pills, and three or four aisles of both gourmet and beautifully packaged foods, and foods that looked like they had been lovingly cooked and packaged in someone’s apartment in Brooklyn. I wandered up and down, looking for my ingredients. (“Mmmm, homemade peanut butter granola! FOCUS Alden”.) When I couldn’t find the garlic, the manager cheerfully showed me to them, piled in a cardboard box on the floor, underneath the apples.

I picked up organic pork chops instead of the lamb, filled a reusable produce bag with bulk pistachios, grabbed a glass jar of green olives (instead of plastic, my dears), and a jar of capers. The recipe also called for fresh oregano and parsley, but seeing that those herbs were packaged in styrene and plastic, I decided to try it without.

And check this out! Westerly has a NUT BUTTER MAKER. Oh my gosh, it makes me so excited. I tried to make my own almond butter the other night at home, but I got bored with the process and didn’t want to subject Vicki to more than 15 minutes of the high-pitched food processor. So the result wasn’t awesome. So here was the solution: at the top, a whole bunch of nuts. You just press down the lever and out the bottom comes nut butter. I can’t wait to come back with an empty jar and fill it up with this stuff. (Little things get me excited, yall.)

I wasn’t even finished. I rounded a corner and saw a shelf of sun tan lotions. I’ve been meaning to get new sunscreen, since apparently skin cancer is on the rise partly because of tanning bed, and partly because sunscreen itself can give you cancer. Oh, but life has a sense of irony.

I whipped out my Good Guide iPhone app and started scanning. Nature’s Gate got a 1 for health out of 10. Really??? That’s worse than conventional make up and shampoo. I mean, this is supposed to be organic stuff! I picked up another “organic” brand and it also got a 1. I scanned another – Kiss My Face – and this one got a 3. At this point I was bored with the process, and figured, what the heck, a 3 is better than a 1. I tossed it in my basket.

(If you want to do better than I, check out Good Guide’s online guide to sunscreens. Hint: Coppertone sucks.)

Finally, I tossed some Burt’s Bees Radiance Day spf 15 in my basket (Good Guide score of 6.8 overall, 5 for health) and paid for my items. I was so freakin pleased with myself, what a green shopper I was!

In summary, for a great green shopping experience:

1. Use your iPhone’s helpful apps for identifying healthy and genuine products. The iPhone also has some fun price comparison apps.

2. Go organic, free range, cage free, and hormone free.

3. Come prepared with produce bags and reusable shopping bags. I keep my reusable Lululemon fold-up bag in my purse at all times, with a produce bag tucked in the outside pocket.

4. Avoid plastic packaging where possible. Embrace the shabby chic aesthetic of jars on your shelves.

5. Read the ingredient label. A long list of scientific gibberish is NOT a good sign. Also, avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. In fact, if the food does not come with an ingredient list at all(“peanuts.” “grapes.” “wild rice.”) that’s the best. (Trust me, this is good for your long-term health AND your waistline.)

6. Unless you are in a lovely health foods store, stick to the edges of the grocery store like it’s the shopping district and and the center is a dangerous food ghetto. That’s where they stick on the deceptively delicious and highly-processed crap that you are better without.

7. If you don’t see a healthy and conscious brand, ask for it. They might take a hint and start carrying Burt’s Bees and Method like so many conventional convenience and grocery stores.

Anyway, I am happy to report that my pistachio tapenade pork chops turned out beautifully, even without fresh parsley, and Vicki scarfed hers down even with the strep throat. Really, if you have any brains you’ll try this simple recipe. Unless you are like Vicki, who apparently is afraid of anything involving heat. In that case, pass the recipe along to your roommate and have her cook it for you.

 

A Non-Toxic Manicure and Thrift Shopping July 23, 2010

Ugh, so sorry I’ve been MIA for the past week. But I’m back, and this will be the first of several backlogged posts.

Saturday was catch-up-on errands day. You see, I had to finally get rid of some old clothes. I cleaned out my closet months ago with the help of a stylist, and even after one trip, there was still an impressive pile on the floor of cast-offs. I poured it all in a couple of reusable bags to take with me.

The whole city was hot, muggy, and inhospitable. My air conditioner labored to keep my room comfortable, and we had all the lights switched off so we didn’t blow a fuse in our old apartment. As I got my stuff together to run out the door, I decided at the last minute to switch bags. “It’s too hot to carry a leather purse,” I complained to Vicki. The idea of having black leather touching my skin, even if it was a thin strap, was gross. I poured everything in a cotton shopping tote, picked up my stuff, and took off for Brooklyn.

I was drenched in sweat by the time I made it to the cool air conditioning of the subway, and drenched again when I emerged into the hot sun and walked two blocks to my destination: Beacon’s Closet. I gratefully pushed open the glass door to the air conditioning.

Beacon’s closet is great, because it’s such an easy process to consign your clothes.

1. Dump your bags full of clothing and accessories with the girls in the back.

2. Either leave and go home, or go shopping on 5th Ave for an hour while they go through your stuff.

3. Pick up your voucher for store credit or cash.

If you decide to just go home, they’ll donate everything they don’t take to charity and you can come back another day for the voucher. If you decide to come back, you can take back all the clothes they don’t want. So easy!

So I left my unwanted stuff with a hipster girl with a brassy blond pixie cut and went to get my nails done. I found a place only a block away and popped in.

Now, a word about getting your nails done: It is not good for you. I mean, it’s great if you want to stop biting your nails (that may or may not be a problem for me) but in reality, a nail salon is a viciously toxic place, with toxins that have been linked to birth deformities, cancer, and liver damage. About this time last year, I made the trek down to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to get my nails done at a green salon, but lets be honest – it’s just too much to ask me to be on the train for an extra hour for a manicure. (There are other salons who use organic nail polish, but none of them are anywhere near the Upper West Side or even Mid-town.) So I came up with a solution: bring my own stuff!

Priti is a great line of nail polishes and nail polish that…well, I’ll let them explain:

Priti Polishes have been formulated without Toluene, DBP and Formaldehyde, all known carcinogens and does not contain any petroleum ingredients. They are fast drying, chip resistant, and super glossy.

As much as I like O.P.I. and Essie nail polish, I like my health more, and these Priti polishes really do the trick. Oh, and you can find them on Amazon, among other places. I had come prepared with pink nail polish, a top coat, and nail polish remover in my bag, and as I slid into a seat at the table, I took them out and put them on the table. “Can I use my own?” I asked the nail technician. She nodded as she took out her various sterilized tools. Then she took a cotton swap and began to soak it with blue liquid. I slid my nail polish remover forward and indicated it. She paused, quizzically, and with an expression of curiosity unscrewed it and soaked a new cotton swab, then set to work.

While she was  pushing up my cuticles and soaking my fingertips, I was able to study the ingredient list on the “fancy” lotions displayed next to me, so when she reached for a bottle I was prepared to turn down the offer of a hand massage. I can’t say for sure there were toxins in there, but if I need a chemistry teacher to identify it, then I don’t use it. It’s a rule that has served me well.

I could just imagine what the technician was saying to her neighbor as she giggled in Korean. “What is this silly white girl doing? Man, do we get some crazy hippies in Brooklyn.” No matter, the woman getting a pedicure next to me and I had a great discussion of the merits of bringing our own polish, and, God help me, Birkenstocks.

When she was done applying the last layer of polish, she picked up my stuff and settled me in the cancer causing UV nail dryer. When she walked away I subtly turned off the light switch and settled for a blow dry.

All prettied up, I stopped by a smoothie shop. I quizzed the girl behind the counter to establish that no extra sugar is added or syrup, and then ordered a pina colada.

It came in a styrene cup.

ARG! I just can’t win! It was too hot to get mad though, so I stopped outside the door to pet a cute pooch and headed back to Beacon’s Closet. I still had time to kill when I got back in, so against my better judgment I started to peruse.

I actually didn’t think I would find anything. Beacon’s has weird criteria for what clothing they pick. They usually turn down 75% of what I bring them, but they do keep some fairly ugtastic items. I guess I’m just not hipster enough to understand what is “fashionable”.

Despite this, I found several cute items:

One very fashionable (a la Refinery 29) Dooney & Burke long-handled leather purse in perfect condition, $25

One gorgeous maxi dress in bright tropical colors with neckline embelishments, $19

One adorable vintage bow tie for Mike to wear to the Jazz Age Festival on Sunday (post coming!), $9

Even minus the clothing I ended up buying, I netted $14. New clothes, AND money. I should clean out my closet more often!

 

My Weekend at Fire Island June 29, 2010

With one of our Summer Friday’s conveniently synced up, Mike and I decided a getaway was in order. We tossed around some ideas. I tentatively suggested driving down to Lexington, where I went to school. After all, it’s a great summer spot: a sleepy little town with some lovely restaurants, incredible hiking, tubing down the river with a cooler of beer, wine tasting, and my good friend Dinah who is studying for her CPA all summer and who could probably use some distracting. Too bad it’s a bit of a far drive.

We also tossed around the idea of Delaware. And then we looked at Montauk at the tip of Long Island. I wanted a beach that we could get to by train, and once there not require any other mode of transportation. Once she heard this, Mike’s sister insisted we try Fire Island.

It was a perfect choice. Most people know Fire Island as a gay destination. In fact, I first heard of it over a long brunch with a gay friend of a friend. Sites about Fire Island like to claim that Cherry Grove, the gay destination, is family friendly, but as my friend’s gay uncle told her, “We would totally invite you out to our house, but…you’re not gay!” Can’t be more clear than that.

Our destination would be Ocean Beach, a tiny little town that is more conventional. No cars are allowed, which is super exciting for a smog-breathing city girl like myself. There’s a long beach, and plenty of restaurants and bars.

Early Friday morning Mike and I hopped the train out of Penn station to Bay Shore, where we caught the ferry across. From Penn Station to the dock took all of two and half hours. Mike had secured us a cheap (by Ocean Beach standards) apartment for the weekend. Great move, because the hotels there are insanely expensive, and feature communal bathrooms and “gross” rooms. Our apartment was much larger than we even needed, with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. The best part is that it was less than twenty paces from the dock, right above the convenience store, and a thirty second walk from the nearest bar.

It was a perfect day for the beach, with hot sunshine and wispy clouds jetting across the sky. We dumped our stuff, changed, and walked the quarter mile down the sidewalks, past the little summer cottages with cute names and, as we got closer, large modern houses fronting the water. My goal had been to be on the beach and stripped down to my bikini by 11 AM, and I’m happy to report we only missed the mark by a half hour. Best of all, the beach was practically empty. I can’t say much about the next three hours, except that I took full advantage of my tanning time and the therapeutic qualities of salty sea water. As more people arrived from the mainland, the beach filled up to the point where we had to listen to someone else’s conversation. Horror.

When I felt my skin start to turn from medium rare to well done, we walked back to town, had a late lunch, took a long nap, had dinner, and went out for drinks, all the while wandering about the island with stars in our eyes, sand in our hair, and empty wallets.

Yup, Ocean Beach is crazy expensive. Our lunch at Island Mermaid of crab cakes, a tuna burger, steamers, and a couple of tropical drinks set us back more than $80. We split a delicious lobster for dinner at Matthews with a modest appetizer of – count em – five shrimp, paired with some Red Wagon Fire Island ale and pricey $14 cocktails, and that set us back more than a hundred. Each beer itself cost at least $8, if not more. We just shrugged it off. After all, it’s hard to get worked up about something after waking up from a delicious nap and walking a hundred yards to watch the waves lap up against the dock, rocking the boats in their slips, while sipping fruity cocktails. Not a car horn could be heard.

The rest of the weekend went similarly. I had grand plans to go to Hands Across the Sand, but we quickly learned that Ocean Beach is cut off from the surrounding area. You have to walk along the beach to get to anywhere. So I gave up my lofty plans of hiking and engaging in a protest against BP, and resigned myself to doing nothing of value whatsoever. It was wonderful.

Friday night after dinner we walked along the beach and then cut back to town along a road no bigger than a golf course sidewalk. A long siren rose up in front of us. A good ten minutes later, as we approached the firehouse, a tiny fire truck pulled out out and drove off toward town. It was about the size of an ambulance. “Oh wow, I wish I had my camera!” I cried after seeing the five firemen clinging to the back of the little thing, all lit up with flashing lights.

“If a house was on fire, it’s no longer there,” said older man with yarmulka to the fireman who had been left behind. The fireman shrugged. “It’s a barbecue.” Such is island life.

We next went to the Sand Bar, which takes the Bridge/Tunnel crowd prize. Mike is originally from Long Island, but has gotten pretty far away from that scene. We danced a bit, but I didn’t feel up to the task of competing with all the sexy dresses on the Long Island ladies. After all, I had heard that Fire Island is super casual, so I had just brought a couple pairs of shorts and some casual tops. Not a form fitting dress and sky high heels. Mike just gaped at the bros pumping their fists in time with Biggie Smalls. We stuck around long enough for a truly disgusting “Midnight Makeout” shot, and then beat it.

Saturday morning I woke up early and went for a long jog while Mike slept off his lingering cold. When I got back to the apartment, I popped downstairs to the convenience store to get a pricey pint of milk for the granola I had brought from Manhattan, and a single serving of orange juice. Together they set me back $6.

I noticed, as Mike and I ate breakfast, that the milk proudly proclaimed “From Real Cows!” Uh, what else would it be made of? Oh, how far I had fallen from free-range, organic, grass fed, local, farmers market milk from Milk Thistle farm. Here I was drinking a milk whose best feature was that it was from an actual cow. Mike and I cracked jokes about the real cows.

“Bacon! From real pigs!”

“Apples! From real trees!”

“Orange juice! From real oranges,” Mike quipped.

“Actually, that’s not much of a joke anymore,” I lamented.

For our strenuous activity of the weekend, we decided to rent bikes. We paid $25 each and walked our bikes through town. There are rules against riding bikes within the city limits on weekends and holidays. At the eastern edge we took off, rolling leisurely along the paths shaded by bamboo, beach fragmite, rose bushes, and fragrant honeysuckle. About twenty minutes into our ride, we came up against a fence. We biked south and tried another road. Locked as well. As a nice young mom told us, the other side was a gated community. So much for our strenuous bike ride. We biked back to town, walked through, and rode past the game middle aged men playing baseball until we were stopped once again by a lack of anywhere to go.

So we did the whole loop again. We tried one more time to get into the fancy gated community, but no one would help us out.  So we stopped on the way back by a little deserted hut called Park Pizza.  As we waited at the counter for someone to come out, I started at the sight of a chihauha perched on a stool, peeping out from behind the counter.

“Bertie,” a disheveled, blond, middle-aged woman said, walking out from the back room.

Mike and I shot each other a confused look. “What?”

“Bertie,” she said again, and pointed to the chihuahua. “Oh!” I said. “Hi Bertie!” The little dog stared at me disinterestedly. He didn’t want to make the effort to climb up the counter to be petted, no matter how many kissy and cooing noises I made.

We ordered a few slices of pizza, and I ordered a Diet Pepsi. You know I’m not a soda drinker, but it seemed like the perfect occasion for it, if there ever was one.

I can’t really vouch for the sanitary conditions of the pizza shack, with a kitchen that could be more aptly described as a junkyard, but the pizza was pretty good, especially with sweet peppers on top. It was nice to eat it while leaning back in the sunshine, watching joggers, golf carts, parents pulling red wagons, and kids on bikes go by.

After turning our overpriced bikes back in, we stopped in at Ice Castle candy shop which also had ice cream and fudge. “Is your ice cream made in-house?” I inquired. No use wasting calories on Edy’s or Hershey’s. “It’s not made in house, but it is homemade,” the girl assured me, from micro-batches by a local place called…Steve’s? Steven’s? I wish I remembered! I got myself a scoop of cake batter and a scoop of funfetti on top. It was like eating ice cream cake, but BETTER. I felt like a little girl again, when Mike paid for it and we sat outside on bench, him watching me with an amused expression while I tried to keep it from melting all over my hands.

We passed the afternoon with the US-Ghana World Cup game at the Island Mermaid, then dinner at McGuires (best view in Ocean Beach, though the service was horrendous), and finally a walk through dark paths to the beach. We occasionally passed a house where we could hear drunken shouts and music coming from inside, but mostly it was a peaceful, humid night. We drank beers on the beach, watching the waves slide back and forth underneath the yellow moon, until the beach was overrun with shrieking, drunk, high school girls and boys from Long Island taking flash photos, and we retreated back to our apartment.

I started my day on Sunday late. Well, late for me. I woke up at 9, eating some berries for breakfast and then walked downstairs and five steps outside of my door to Healing Waters Massage for my 10:00 appointment. A little blond lady was behind the desk. She was like what Marilyn Monroe would sound like, if she had reached 50, with a high-pitched, nervous flutter of a voice. “I’m just filling in for my friend,” she told me. “She’s at a wedding this weekend.”

She introduced me to Chris, my very handsome and tan masseuse. I want to say he had an Australian accent, but I think I’m just making that up. Yeah, I am.

He led me to the back room with the table and left me there to get ready, closing the door behind me. I pulled off my coverup which left me with just my bikini. I looked at the table with the folded-down sheet, and then down at myself. I hesitantly opened the door and peeked out. “Um, Jane?” I called. “Yes dear?” she said, popping around the corner.

“I’m supposed to go under the sheet, right?” I asked.

“Yup!”

“And um, am I supposed to get naked?”

Just then Chris appeared. “Oh, yes!” Jane nodded at me eagerly. “Jane,” Chris cut in placing a hand on her arm,”let me handle this – ”

“Oh! I – sorry – I just – ” She burst into a fit of nervous giggles. I started laughing too, and she just giggled louder, and then threw her arms around me in a bear hug. Finally Chris shooed her away, and told me that yes, I could get naked, but only if I was comfortable with it. I thanked him, went back in, and got naked, nervously scooting myself under the sheet.

Luckily Chris was super professional, and pretty good too. He massaged out all my cubicle dweller kinks quite nicely, and I emerged relaxed and smelling like essential oil, ready to hit the beach again. (Luckily, Mike is not the jealous type.) I met him at the Mermaid bar, where he was watching a Cup game. Well, first I stopped to get a square of peanut butter and chocolate fudge from Ice Castle. Then we headed to the beach for another lazy afternoon, hiding our Red Stripe from passing lifeguards by creating a tent out of the beach rules they passed out. Rules like “No throwing balls or playing frisbee,” and “no food, drinks, or water.” What?

Mike had mentioned several times he is not the beach type. As I read my yoga magazine and tried not to snigger at the power of prayer to heal tumors, I realized he was talking to me.
“Hmmm, what?” I said, distracted.

“I think I actually do like the beach,” he said. “All I’ve ever been to are the really crowded beach on Long Island that are drivable. You don’t have any space. But this is great.” I’m glad I could show him the light.

We ended our weekend with chicken wings and sweet potato fries while watching the Argentina-Mexico Cup game, and then a couple of tropical drinks by the bay. We boarded the ferry well-rested and happy.

“It was really fun,” I told Mike as the ferry growled its way back to the mainland and the breeze whipped through my salty, crunchy hair, “But I’m ready to go.”

Indeed, we had run out of things to do. I guess we could have eaten and drank more, but three days was the perfect amount of time to spent in this tiny secluded island town.

 

NYC’s Highline to Double in Size June 28, 2010

Filed under: New York,news,Places to go — Alden @ 2:05 am
Tags: , , ,

How many times have I said that I love New York City parks? Even as the MTA struggles to keep service running and reliable, the city continues to shell out for the most beautiful and well-done green spaces. I have no problem with that. Really, what better way to use taxpayer money? (Rhetorical question, let’s not do a political debate here.)

Anyway, case in point: The Highline, a new park that combines an old railroad bed, native plants, and a highly developed post-industrial aesthetic for amazing results. I’ve been there twice, and was hugely impressed with the landscaping, design, and even the art installation at the end. And it’s not even done yet!

From Inhabitat:

The new section, like the existing park, will feature open joints in the concrete to encourage grass to grow in the cracks. At one point in the extension, the concrete will be stripped away to reveal the steel girders supporting the trestle. Greenery along the path will feature mainly plants that grow naturally in Manhattan — it’s hard to call anything in the concrete jungle “native” — but they’ll be interspersed with other flora so that something will be in bloom during the whole growing season.

At one point, the trail will ascend above the rail line into the canopy of sumac trees. In the shade cast by the overhead walkway will go plants that grow naturally in the shade of the City’s skyscrapers. The extension will also feature its own version of Central Park’s Ramble, a stretch of dense trees and shrubs called the Chelsea Thicket. (I foresee lots of native Chelsea wildlife activity behind these trees in that other great New York tradition.)

Also forthcoming are a lounging lawn, a sitting area framed with an empty billboard frame and a 30th Street entrance.

Cue “I love New York” music.